Bad harvest conditions hurting western Canadian farmers

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WATCH ABOVE: Poor harvest conditions continue to plague western Canadian farmers. Snow, ice rain and cold are stopping them from harvesting and its affecting quality. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, producers are still assessing the damage and wondering if there is any hope in what's left out there – Oct 9, 2016

Many growers in Alberta and Saskatchewan have had to put harvesting on hold because of the recent rain and snow.

It’s been a roller coaster of a season for farmers like Murray Taks who has barley, canola and wheat crops west of Crossfield.

“Well we started out with a drought and then as soon as we started haying, the rains came. It’s been a different year,” Taks said as he assessed his ice-covered barley fields on Sunday.

It was shaping up to be a decent barley yield for Taks, but the cold wet weather put a freeze on the harvest and will likely reduce the frozen remnants to feed grade, dropping the value nearly in half.

“I think for malt barley, the quality is pretty much done. The wheat could end up being feed grade. But the canola won’t take much damage and with the cattle industry the way it is, feed barley isn’t worth much. It doesn’t have any profitability in it at all,” Taks said.

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Taks is about halfway through his harvest. In a typical year, he’d nearly be done but he considers himself lucky compared to neighbours near Airdrie who haven’t even started yet, because of a late summer hail storm and the wintry weather.

“Being a farmer, it’s sad when you drive around. You don’t just look at your own crops, you look at the neighbours too,” Taks said.

“It’s the hailstorm that set the crops back. The hailstorm was a little bit later in the season and it just knocked everything back a couple of weeks or even a month. I’ve got some friends that have got nothing done. They just got done haying and no harvest done at all, as far as combining,” Taks said.

With crop quality now in decline, it could leave producers with no choice but to make cutbacks.

“There’s going to be a large portion that’s going to go into that number three or feed wheat factor, so it’s going to have an impact on people’s incomes,” Lynn Jacobson, Alberta Federation of Agriculture president, said.

Conditions vary across Alberta right now, according to Jacobson, with farmers in the far southern part of the province around 85 to 90 per cent complete, but as you go farther north, far less of the harvest is wrapped up.

“They are probably only a third to a half done up there. And you get further up into Camrose area, they might be two-thirds done,” Jacobson said.

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Warmth is what’s needed to dry the crops out now, but with below average temperatures forecast for the next two weeks, farmers are left to watch the value of this year’s work slip away.

“It’s the forecast, that’s what concerns me the worst. Forecast is not good,” Taks said. “It’s stressed us out. When you can’t get anything done. The weather gets so that you’re just about to get rolling again and then it stops you again.”

A snowfall warning was in effect for southern Alberta as of Sunday afternoon.

According to Alberta Agriculture, the provincial harvest was  69 per cent complete as of Oct. 4 before wet weather again hit the province.

Producers in the Peace region saw the first significant snowfall of the season with 15 cm covering much of the region.

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